We have recognized a problem in our sport for close to 50 years, and we have done nothing about it. That problem is the use of swim meets as club fundraisers. Its time to solve the problem.
Let's define the problem. Swim meets are the core, the heart of our sport. We go to practice in order to prepare our athletes for swim meets. We gain skills so that when we are measured, we improve in swim meets. The most stimulating moments of our sport happen in swim meets. And one of the most deadly events on earth is the age group swim meet. If you don't know the swimmers (all of the swimmers), it's like watching paint dry, except that you have a sense of accomplishment if you did the painting.
Several years ago, we did the amazing feat of insisting on four-hour swim meets for age groupers. Amazing indeed. Can you name any other major sport where the event for young children lasts for four hours? And unfortunately there are still places out there in our great country that know better but continue to run 8-hour and longer monster meets.
What really is a Four Hour Swim Meet? Well, you have to be at the meet about an hour before the start for warm-up, and you probably leave your house at least an hour before warm-up to get to the pool, and oh yes, you have to drive home, so a Four Hour Swim Meet is actually more like (at least) a seven hour experience.
Folks, there are no other sporting activities for young people that take seven hours out of a family's life. I have a son in baseball. It takes two to three hours max (and it's also boring). I have seen soccer, with 10 to 30 minutes of warm-up, a one-hour game, and home. Two hours, tops. Hockey, the same. Tennis, the same.
What does this mean? In a society where speed and convenience is everything, we in swimming continue to swim against the tide. People want good experiences for their children that do not tie up the family for a whole day. As a guideline, those activities that can be done in an hour or two or three maximum, are the ones that are popular and growing.
Why do we have these long swim meets? Because each splash is cash. The more splashes, the more cash flows.
Now, what is wrong with this thinking? If a typical swimmer's day is three events at US $1.50 per event, that's $4.50 to the host team. ($5 and higher in Canada.) Plus maybe a couple of bucks at the concession stand so they don't starve during this endurance test. Plus a program for Mom and Dad. Maybe $15.00 or so.
If the meet is long enough to send Mom, Dad, and swimmer off to another sport, we lose them forever. And the ordeal of long meets is a proven reason why swimmers depart from our sport.
Here are some suggestions:
Now if we had a short, fast, fun meet experience, we'd keep that swimmer for years. And her $50.00 a month in dues. Do the math-12 months times $50 is $600.00. That's a whole lot more profitable than a $15.00 swim meet experience. (Or even a whole lot of swim meet experiences.)
Long meets cost us swimmers and swimming families. Period. Let's fix it. Let's get back to swim meets for swimmers. Short, fast, fun. Forget about charging for them. Be creative, be innovative. Think like a swimming coach and not like a businessman, and come up with what is a good experience for young swimmers. Something that will keep them fascinated with our sport and keep them in our sport.
You probably know how to teach swimming. (If you don't, call the ASCA, and we'll tell you how). You can think like a businessperson when you run your learn-to-swim business.
You have an expertise, you have an eager market, and you have a need for money. And you have a problem to solve in replacing the cash you earn from swim meets. Oh yes, and by the way, you don't need a whole slew of volunteers to run a learn-to-swim program. Let your own team parents relax and enjoy short meets. They don't need to spend the huge volunteer hours that create parent burnout either.
Drop running swim meets for cash. It's best for your team. Run good, fast, fun meets. Run Learn to Swim to make up the money, and make even more, doing something you're good at.
It's what's right for you. Right for your swimmers. Right for the sport.
Let's solve the problem.
It's one we can solve.
John Leonard is Executive Director of the American Swimming Coaches Association. Reprinted from ASCA Newsletter, Volume 97, Issue 12.